Tag Archives: Millard West High School

Smashing Stereotypes

May 3, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Thriving Omaha artist Tyler Chickinelli wants to smash a couple of stereotypes—one, not all artists are pretentious and, two, they aren’t noninclusive. The idea that artists are elitist snobs who only welcome the upper echelon of creatives into their circles isn’t what Chickinelli has experienced in the local community. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

“I can’t say it’s true everywhere, but in Omaha there are people doing things on every level—from do-it-yourself to professional grade shows,” Chickinelli says. “We have a very inclusive art scene here. I’m not even very good at being involved here, but you can definitely do it if you want.”

Chickinelli, who started taking art “slightly seriously” while a student at Millard West High School, grew up surrounded by it. His uncle, Mark Chickinelli, is an oil painter and illustrator, while his grandfather ran Omaha Antique and Job Plating, an antique refinishing and plating shop on 24th and Mason streets, which was founded by his great-grandfather.

Currently, the 28-year-old Chickinelli is preparing for an art show in Hanover, Germany, where he will show off his penchant for geometric shapes before flying back for a local show.

“What captivates me about geometric shapes is the virtually endless possibility of combinations—in color, shape, size, what you can turn them into, what canvas or surface to use,” he explains. “They are found all around us, all the time. I think they just resonated with me at some point and I’ve been twisting them every way I can since. It’s definitely not all I want to do, though. I have some very different things stylistically for myself on the horizon.”

One of those things is an art show he is working on in collaboration with Drew Newlin of Skate for Change.

“We are curating a show together with Skate For Change consisting of 12 skateboards, which will be designed by 12 different artists,” he says. “We are then going to distribute the boards to 12 skaters. I will just wait until it happens so people can see it, but I am stoked about it.”

While Chickinelli has only painted a few skateboards, he’s still fascinated by the concept of them—not just as a mode of transportation or something you can do tricks on but also the disposable graphics that come along with them.

“I love the idea of art on skateboards,” he says. “It’s always so fascinating and super stylized, perfectly smooth. It also gets destroyed. I really like the idea of making something that just gets scratched into oblivion because someone else enjoys it so much.”

At this stage in Chickinelli’s burgeoning career, he’s clearly grateful to be part of such a supportive and endlessly creative community. Chickinelli embraces an all-inclusive attitude towards his fellow creatives, again, bashing the stereotype that artists are self-righteous and self-absorbed. 

“There are so many people doing different kinds of creative things here,” he says. “Whether it’s traditional, craftsmen, culinary, or musically, there is no shortage of creativity in town in a lot of different areas. Sometimes I joke that almost everyone I know is an artist or a musician, and it’s not too far off really. They are playing shows in basements and in traditional venues, touring big and small, displaying in galleries, and opening up businesses. It’s a really cool thing to see everyone just doing their own thing, but maintaining a community as well.”


Chickinelli’s artwork will be featured on Little Brazil’s upcoming album. Check out more of this artist’s work at tylerchickinelli.daportfolio.com.

This article appears in the May/June 2018 edition of Encounter.

The Death of Cursive

February 24, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Look closely. Bet you can’t even read it. The strong, curvaceous loops of the “L” intersect just a little too closely with …is that an “o”? It hooks right up with … “z”…something? In it, though, there is a sense of beauty in the slants, the graceful curves.

Too bad this beautiful writing form is practically dead. Cursive seems destined for the same literary fate as the typewriter.

Freshman Colby Gomes is part of that generation that is no longer charmed by cursive writing. On a recent day at Millard West High School, he tossed an example essay back to his English teacher with a laugh. I can’t read this,” he said. “Why not?” “Because it’s in cursive,” Gomes responded.

Reading teacher Diane Eubanks started noticing this trend in her sixth grade classes at Alice Buffett Middle School. Eubanks has been teaching for 26 years, first at the King Science and Technology Magnet Center. She used to write nothing but cursive on the board, and it was a deep part of the curriculum. “Now, I can’t because they [students] can’t read it,” Eubanks says. “It really did surprise me. I do understand it, but it is kind of sad.”

She believes that out of her 200 or so students, only 10 can read and write cursive.

The Common Core State Standards for many public schools have omitted cursive as a necessity even though it has been linked to higher cognitive skills in memory and brain development. Nebraska along with Texas, Alaska, and Virginia has not adopted the standards. Some states such as Hawaii have even dropped cursive completely so students can learn 21st century skills such as keyboarding.

Unlike Omaha Public Schools, which concentrate on cursive writing during the last semesters of third grade, the Catholic Schools of Omaha require an entire year of focus.

Kim Abts, a teacher’s assistant at St. Roberts Bellarmine, was shocked when a public school transfer student still could not write or read cursive in the fourth grade. “I think I’ve taken it for granted,” Abts says. “I thought that was just a normal, natural thing.”

Abts says after third grade, students are not allowed to print. For example, Unlike Eubanks, teachers at St. Roberts still write cursive on the board as well.

Eubanks believes teachers just have limited time to teach handwriting. In addition, most students rarely write anything anymore because everything is on some sort of computer. “Technology has made us somewhat brain-dead,” Gomes says.

Gomes recalls learning handwriting clear back in the third grade at Willowdale, but now he uses it to sign only his name. He believes cursive is just too complicated for his generation. “We don’t want to take the time to make the loopy-doops,” he explains.

Wyatt Spethman, a fifth grader at Whitetail Creek in Gretna, disagrees. He believes cursive is faster plus it looks “fancier.” Spethman boasts his handwriting is good and accepts the challenge to write, “I love donuts.” When he tries, though, he pauses. He explains he does not know how to make a capital “I.”

“I just forgot about it,” he says shrugging.

Reminiscing about her 26 years of teaching, Eubanks still recalls the beautifully scrawled handwriting of former students. “It is a lost art, really,” she says, sighing.

Perhaps this epitaph will be etched into cursive’s tombstone. In print.

20141217_bs_4135_2

BuilderTREND

December 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Back when they attended Millard West High School together, there was little or no indication that these three guys would someday run a very successful business. More unlikely still: It all began with one of those usually hair-brained ideas spawned during a night out with the boys.

Not long after that evening, BuilderTREND Solutions, a web-based program and mobile app designed specifically for home builders, professional remodelers, and home improvement companies, was created by brothers, Steve and Jeff Dugger, and their friend, Dan Houghton. Like so many precocious teenage entrepreneurs, they started it in their basement.

Eight years later, the company has approximately 65 employees, with clients in 25 different countries and half a million users worldwide.

“The program basically acts as a project management and collaboration tool for the contractor,” Houghton explains. “The system really manages everything, from their clients to their lease to their financial management.” BuilderTREND software allows the contractors to build out budgets and manage purchase orders, as well as management for documents, photos, and change orders. If there is a change to the job, the program will automatically track the change.

The program also allows the contractor or the clients themselves to choose—or change—paint colors, counter tops, or anything that can make their new space their own. “There is a piece that allows the homeowner—or the client, if it’s a commercial job—to actually log in and track what is going on,” explains Houghton. This allows the homeowner or project owner to collaborate with contractors and subcontractors more easily and stay informed on the latest changes, updates,

and photos. Most important, says Houghton, “it’s about eliminating mistakes.”

BuilderTREND’s success is even more impressive given that the business started in 2006, the same year that the housing bubble burst and new home construction virtually stopped. Houghton reflects on the early years, admitting that it was a difficult time to sell something that was an extra expense to the construction industry when little money was coming in. “I think all businesses got hit hard, especially our industry,” he says. “Basically, we needed to make some changes to our marketing and development strategies.” By appealing to the remodeling industry as well as the new home construction, the partners were able to increase the original scope of their business plan.

“We’ve always grown,” Houghton says. “It’s just how fast you can grow, and during those times it was obviously more difficult.” Houghton credits the improved economy, as well as their dedicated employees, for BuilderTREND’s continued success.

The company will soon be moving into a new 20,000-square-foot headquarters and has hired more than 30 employees this year alone. “We’re having a great time,” he says.

20141030_bs_6680

Greg Groggel

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Native Omahan Greg Groggel, 29, has always had an adventurous spirit and an ambition to see the world.

As a high school student at Millard West (Class of 2002), Groggel spent a semester as an exchange student in Finland. He went on to attend the University of Puget Sound in Washington State, where he pursued a degree in International Political Economy.

During a college break, he volunteered as a runner for ESPN during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. “Mostly, I carted around athletes to and from the ESPN studio for interviews,” he said. “I had to learn how to drive a stick-shift in 24 hours,” he remembered with a nervous laugh.

Following college, Groggel applied for and won a prestigious Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which awarded him $25,000 to pursue his proposed project: travel to six former Olympic host cities—Mexico City, Mexico; Sydney, Australia; Seoul, Korea; Sarajevo, Yugoslavia; Munich, Germany; and Bejing, China—over the course of a year to study and document the social, economic, and political ramifications of hosting the Games. The experience taught him to be self-reliant and resourceful. “I spent two months in each city,” he said. “Each time, I was on my own to find my own housing, transportation, my sources…it was challenging.”

“I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show.”

When NBC Sports learned of Groggel’s ambitious efforts, they offered him a job with the network covering the Beijing Olympics. “I spent about eight months on that job,” he said. In 2009, NBC hired Groggel back for a year to research and conduct pre-interviews with athletes in preparation for their coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. “I was Bob Costas’ right-hand man, researching and writing for his prime-time [Olympic] show,” Groggel added. He served a similar role again for NBC this summer during the Summer Olympic Games in London. He’s been recognized with two Sports Emmy Awards for his work with NBC.

Today, Groggel works for a television production company in New York, producing and developing new television shows for CBS, Bravo, CNBC, and others. “It’s a lot of fun, and very interesting—jumping around, doing field shots, some writing…”

When asked if he’s ever been star-struck either at the Olympics or on the red carpet, Groggel replied, “Just once, really…I was excited to meet Tom Brokaw.” It seems the former KMTV reporter/NBC News anchorman and Groggel had a good bit in common.

“We visited about Omaha mostly.”

One of four kids, Groggel said in his family, venturing far from home is the norm. “I have three sisters. One lives in San Francisco and is a lawyer, one is in grad school, and one just moved to NYC after doing a stint in Togo with the Peace Corp.” Where did the Groggel kids get their wordly ways? “…Our mom, Martha Goedert. She works in the medical profession and goes to Haiti every year to do mission work and act as a midwife,” he shared proudly. Her example is all they needed to fly.